Deeper into the Brain

National Review, January 24, 2000.


We, Homo sapiens, are about to learn how to alter human nature at roughly the same time that we finally learn for sure what that nature is.

Our ignorance about the underlying truth of human nature has not been for want of trying. Philosophers took up the question as one of the very first that human beings systematically asked about themselves. But philosophers produced answers as various as Aristotle’s and Rousseau’s. Since the late 1900s, behavioral and social scientists too have tried to understand human nature. But while they have illuminated many useful bits and pieces, they have failed as system-builders. What is left of Freud, out of the beliefs that were so intellectually pervasive in mid century? Psychotherapy remains, in profuse variety, but only remnants of Freudianism. What is left of B. F. Skinner? Behaviorism is still a productive branch of psychology, but the Skinnerian vision of human nature that once seemed so compelling is dead. As for Marx, does anything at all survive? For more than a century, Marxism was throughout continental Europe the leading intellectual framework for thinking about how political institutions can realize the nature of man. That edifice has collapsed utterly.

The Bell Curve Archive